To become true communities of radical welcome, we must look inward, notice the ways our beliefs, assumptions, practices, and physical spaces creates barriers to full engagement, and we must choose to change.
Welcoming is not the work of one or two people at the door. It takes a whole meeting to create a culture that is ready to attentively and joyfully bring newcomers into the fold of the community. The materials and activities in the Weaving a Wider Welcome section of the Spiritual Deepening Library offer you an opportunity to explore best practices for bringing newcomers into the life of the meeting, with special emphasis on welcoming people of color, families with young children, and LGBTQIA folks.
Here you will discover:
- Welcoming is Grounded in Spiritual Vitality: A welcoming meeting is a place where the Spirit is at work in people’s lives: “Something is happening here, and I want to stay and see what that’s about.” Strengthening the spiritual vitality of the meeting community, deepening worship, and nurturing the spiritual lives of members and newcomers are all key components of welcoming. Let’s go deeper together.
- Welcoming Invites Us to Get Messy and Take Risks: Unexamined bias and institutional racism, sexism and other oppressive systems are built into American and Canadian society and create barriers to full participation. Our good intentions are not enough — we must work creatively and persistently to create the change we want to see. Let’s get brave and bold and messy in the name of welcoming.
- Practical Tips for Welcoming: There are practical things we can do to make our meetinghouses and our practices more accessible and welcoming– for folks with disabilities, for children and parents, and for people from a variety of racial and class backgrounds. Let’s share some great ideas.
The Needs of Newcomers
Many Quakers deeply long to see our meetings thrive – to experience deep and grounded worship, to participate in a supportive and active community life that embraces children, young adults, and diverse voices, and to share the gift of Quaker practice and faith with the wider world. Increasing the vitality and voice of our meetings and the Religious Society of Friends calls for a holistic approach. Welcoming is not rocket science but it takes dedicated attention and work. Together, we will be exploring the qualities of welcoming that support visitors to our meetings in becoming valued Friends.
The simple act of thinking about welcoming newcomers, of getting ready to receive them, and of preparing to integrate them into the life of the meeting, can give new life to a meeting. For many meetings, this work may spark the development of spiritual nurture opportunities, new welcoming practices, improvements to the meeting house, or a strengthening of programming for children and families.
The visitors who step through the doors of our meetinghouses are often seeking both meaning and belonging. Welcoming meetings invite newcomers to learn about the Quaker faith, Quaker processes, and Quaker worship, AND to build connections and relationships with Friends in the meeting. Activities or renewal opportunities that allow everyone in the meeting to explore their spirituality and the Quaker way together can meet the needs of newcomers and be a gift to the entire community. When we are intentional about meeting the spiritual needs of both newcomers and the people who are already part of our meeting communities, the visitors that walk through our doors can perceive the vitality, spiritual depth, and sense of connection we share, leading some of them to think, “Ah yes, this could be my spiritual home.”
- Welcoming is not one-size-fits-all. What works for one doesn’t work for another.
- Personal connections are key.
- Warm but spacious welcome seems to work.
- Welcoming Friends are good listeners and open-minded, attuned to different kinds of needs a newcomer might have, and yet knowledgable about the different pathways.
- Effective integration efforts must meet the newcomer where they are along their spiritual journey.
- Successful meetings invite newcomers to learn about Quaker faith, Quaker practices and processes, AND to build connections and relationships with Friends in the meeting
- Being invitational is distinct from “selling” what we have to offer.
Friends have sometimes talked about assimilating newcomers into meeting culture. This is not a welcoming frame. We should instead recognize that every time a new person attends our meeting the culture will change in some way. Welcoming practices embrace the changes that come with the new energy of newcomers and expand our meeting culture to meet their needs.
The goal of many of the activities and resources in this Spiritual Deepening Library topic is to help us explore the many facets of how our meetings can be more welcoming to newcomers, including a strong focus on becoming more welcoming to seekers from groups under-represented in our meetings, particularly People of Color, families with young children, young adults, people with disabilities, visitors from diverse economic class and political backgrounds, and transgender and gender non-conforming people.
We will learn about the ways that assumptions and bias interfere with good welcome. We’ll look at ways we shut folks out instead of inviting them in, asking ourselves, In what ways do our unexamined biases and structures make it hard for some groups to feel welcome in our meetings?
The spiritual lesson offered to us is to open ourselves to the reality that we may hurt people when we want to welcome them.
- It’s easy to make assumptions that turn people off.
- Some newcomers face heightened barriers to entry, such as people of color, people of different political or economic backgrounds, young adults, or trans or gender nonconforming people. It is our responsibility as Friends to address the ways assumptions and systemic oppression show up in our meetings.
- Once you stop expecting everyone to behave like educated-class white, traditional family folks, you’ll have an easier time being welcoming to other groups as well.
- Doing the work to make the meeting welcoming to any one group of people will help us develop the awareness to be welcoming to all.
- We must also be aware of the “hidden diversities” that exist within our meetings, including economic class, political orientation, marital status, mental health, level of education, theological diversity, and others. Statements that assume sameness can be alienating and hurtful.
As we explore the ways that assumptions interfere with our good intentions to be welcoming to newcomers to our meetings, we also must recognize that assumptions are just the beginning of the work. Let us dig deeper on systemic racism and how it impacts our meetings and prepare ourselves and our meetings for hard conversations and saying the wrong thing.
White supremacy and racism are embedded in our society and institutions and recreated constantly. We breathe them in like air pollution, so while the origins are not our specific fault, like air pollution there are various strategies that people, communities and institutions must engage in to mitigate and clean up the mess. We are challenged to recognize the impact of white supremacy on Quaker culture and our efforts toward welcoming.
Shifting culture to make your meeting welcoming to people who would bring diversity takes deep and hard work. We have resources for doing that. Through racial equity work and healing white supremacy, we reclaim our full humanity. Especially for white people, this work encourages a communal, non-individualistic mindset, which can restore connections and build a sense of solidarity. We must be prepared for hard conversations and hard work, but it can also be fun, loving, and enlivening. We are all in it together.
Let’s face it: we’re not perfect. That’s good actually. We can grow. Undoing racism and changing culture is risky and uncomfortable work. We are called to be vulnerable, imperfect, curious, and brave as we move forward.
These ideas may be challenging for some and familiar to others. Take time to sit prayerfully with any discomfort you might be experiencing, and listen for the Holy invitation in your discomfort. We are invited to move past guilt and shame into growth and connection.
- White supremacy culture can shape the values and culture of our meetings when we value things like perfectionism, worship of the written word, and fear of open conflict.
- Being welcoming requires working intentionally at undoing the racism embedded in our meetings and in our lives. This work makes a meeting that is welcoming and accessible not just for Friends of Color, but for all of us.
- Aspects of white supremacy culture interfere with our ability to have brave and hard conversations (through conflict avoidance, status quo, perfectionism.)
- This work is hard, messy, and we’ll mess up and do regrettable things and offend people. AND that’s better than avoiding the hard topics altogether.
Be a People Transformed
It’s clear that becoming welcoming meetings is about far more than greeting visitors at the door of our meetinghouses on Sunday mornings. To become true communities of radical welcome, we must look inward, notice the ways our beliefs, assumptions, practices, and physical spaces creates barriers to full engagement, and we must choose to change. Unless we seek transformation, newcomers will continue to experience the same unwelcoming barriers and our communities will lack the vitality, energy, and depth we long for.
Meetings that want to fully welcome newcomers must be ready for change and transformation. None of this matters if community wants to stay the same. If our meetings are not places where lives are being transformed, if people are staying in their stuck places, there’s nothing to invite newcomers into. Shifting the culture of our meetings in this way requires openness, vulnerability, and recognizing our imperfection. It will be hard and we will have to grieve the things we let go of.
The good news is that transformation is a gift and can increase the vitality of our meetings. As we embrace this call as individuals, and as we invite the meeting into transformation as well, our spiritual community can become deeper, more connected, more vibrant, and more grounded. Not only will we better meet the needs of newcomers and build authentic relationships when they join us, but we will have gifted ourselves and those folks who are already a part of our meeting with a healthier and less “stuck” Quaker community. The second piece of good news is that, as Quakers, we have a rich toolbox of practices for supporting us in our transformation.
Transformation & Vitality
The premise today is that if our meetings are not places where lives are being changed and transformed, visitors will not find what they’re looking for when they walk through our doors. Vital worship, people being vulnerable, and a meeting being open to newness and change all create a space for newcomers to enter our communities and shape us into something different. These are the spiritual conditions for welcoming.
A key step toward greater welcoming is to meet the spiritual needs of the people who are already part of our meeting communities. Vibrant Quaker meetings share grounded worship, deep personal connections, and opportunities for exploring spirituality and faith in action, and we must provide opportunities for this vibrancy to grow. These efforts contribute to welcoming because the visitors that walk through our doors can perceive the vitality, spiritual depth, and sense of connection we share, leading some of them to think, “Ah yes, this could be my spiritual home.”
Going deeper together offers spiritual gifts for us as individuals but also for the community. As we move beyond our status quo and out of our comfort zones, we step closer to who Spirit is inviting us to be. Our risk taking expands us– and our meetings.
- Meetings that want newcomers must be open to change and transformation
- If we want to transform our meetings, for example into meetings that are radically welcoming, we must be ready to be transformed individually and collectively.
- Transformation requires vulnerability, recognizing our imperfection, and listening for the invitation of how to grow more into God’s image
- Quaker faith and practices offer a rich toolkit for transformation and antidotes to white supremacy culture
The Welcoming Friend Project was an initiative of Friends General Conference that explored best practices for bringing newcomers into the life of the meeting, with special emphasis on learning about best practices for welcoming folks of color, families with young children, and LGBTQIA folks. The Weaving a Wider Welcome materials were developed to share these resources and practices with Friends and meetings throughout North America.
Welcoming Friend Working Group, 2018-2019: Holly Baldwin (FGC), Steven David Flowers (ILYM), Kody Hersh (SEYM), Katrina McQuail (CanYM), Bronwyn Mohlke (NYYM), Suzanne Siverling (ILYM), Eppchez Yes (NEYM), Katherine Youngmeister (IMYM)
Content Development: Rachel Ernst Stahlhut, Holly Baldwin, Kody Hersh, Lori Piñeiro Sinitzky, Eppchez Yes